Friday, January 08, 2010

Are Nuclear fears overblown ?

Simon Jenkins (yes I know but wait) has an interesting article on CiF. He reviews two books one about the OTT attitude to nuclear radiation :
The first book, Radiation and Reason, is by an Oxford professor of physics, Wade Allison. It narrates the history and nature of nuclear radiation, culminating in an attack on the obsessive safety levels governing nuclear energy. These overstate the true risk, in Allison's view, by up to 500 times, thus rendering nuclear prohibitively expensive
For example even the worst of nuclear disasters Chernobyl has not had lead to the nightmare scenarios some thought :
Allison analyses successive studies into the only serious nuclear accident since Hiroshima, the Chernobyl fire, which killed no more than 60 people, all in close contact with the fire. Other than some thyroid cancers caused chiefly by a failure to distribute iodine tablets, long-term cancers in survivors were below the regional average.
The other book is "Atomic Obsession" by John Mueller, professor of political science at Ohio State University who thinks the risk of nuclear terrorism has been much exaggerated  :
He points out that nuclear bombs are extremely hard to make, let alone deploy, and their destructive power and radiological aftermath are grossly overstated.
Now it appears Mueller is is a bit of a sceptic in general when it comes to the threat of terrorism but his views are interesting. Anyone who wants to know more of the details of his argument can read them in this paper. 

I must admit as someone who has been freaked out by the idea of nuclear terrorism I found this stuff quite reassuring. Of course that's not to say we shouldn't be clear about the nature and threat of Islamic terrorism but given the ramshackle nature of the latest plots can you really see Islamists jihadis managing to get it together enough to deploy a nuke ?

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